Tag Archive | Nazi

“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”

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Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will

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The Dodd Family

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
by Erik Larson

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Cindy Knoke‘s review

Dec 28, 12  ·
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Eric Larsen is a meticulous researcher and writer.  His book “Devil in the White City,” a non-fiction account of a serial killer on a spree during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was a tour de force, but “In the Garden of Beasts,” may be his greatest accomplishment to date. This book, relying on historical records and eye witness accounts, details the experiences of William E. Dodd and his family living in Hitler’s Berlin from 1933-38, when Dodd was the first US ambassador to Berlin under Hitler’s regime.
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Dodd, an unassuming professor from the University of Chicago, who had received his Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig thirty years before, was somewhat ill prepared to be an ambassador. He was more at home at his farm or in a classroom than in an international embassy.  He was viewed as a middle class, penny-pincher, who scrupulously monitored embassy expenses.  This made him the butt of jokes and ill will among embassy staffers, most of whom were independently wealthy.  His penurious ways also made him the butt of jokes among the Nazi elite.
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Despite this awkward fit, Dodd was a remarkable person, who sent a series of astutely accurate reports back to President Roosevelt during his tenure, documenting escalating atrocities against Jews under Hitler’s regime, restrictions in civil liberties, press censorship, violence and incarceration against opponents and German citizens, and the alarming increase in martial law.
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When Dodd assumed the Ambassadorship, Hitler was Hindenburg’s Chancellor. Hindenburg died a year later, the same year that Hitler and his supporters staged a coup to route out their substantial German opposition led by Eric Rohm. It was after this violent and bloody coup, “The Night of The Long Knives,” that Dodd commenced his campaign to inform President Roosevelt and the American leadership about the atrocities occurring under the Nazi regime. His remarkable and accurate reports were essentially ignored by American leadership preoccupied by the depression, and unable to get their minds around what was occurring in Europe. Dodd was relentless in his unpopular campaign despite this resistance.
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As if all of this wasn’t challenging enough, Dodd who served in Berlin with his wife, son Bill and daughter Martha, had his hands full with…umm…vivacious Martha. Martha, 22 years old when she arrived in Berlin, had already been secretly married and divorced. She wasted no time upon arrival in Berlin to involve herself in the Third Reich social whirlwind. It was impossible for me to keep track of her sexual liaisons, but she had affairs with an Luftwaffe Officer; Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo; a Russian spy stationed in Berlin; a French Diplomat; American personnel; the poet Carl Sandburg; a Nobel Laureate and many more. Keeping track was difficult for the reader, and possibly for Martha herself.
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Originally Martha was a Third Reich supporter, but after The Night of the Long Knives, her politics turned sharply left and anti-Nazi. The violence and imprisonment of her friends who opposed Hitler shocked her. The ambassador’s residence phone was tapped by the Nazis,  and servants were paid to spy and eavesdrop on the family. Her mother nearly had a nervous breakdown due to stress.
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So Martha, being Martha,  decided to convert to communism, and spy for Russia with her lover, the Russian spy.
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Martha’s fascinating life is way too complicated for me to try to explain. You must read the book. She did continue to spy for Russian against the US through the Cold War, even after marrying Alfred Stern, heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune.
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This review is just the tip of the iceberg. You must read the book. The denouement of the ambassador and his family’s tenure in Germany is absolutely fascinating reading, as is the denouement of Martha’s Dodd’s peculiar life.
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No one could make up a story like this because it would not be credible. You will learn so much about this period in German history, and for that alone this book is invaluable. The full story of Martha’s life is mind-boggling as well.
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But in the final analysis, it is steady, relentless, William Dodd, trying to alert the US to what was happening in Europe that impressed me.
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Highly recommend this remarkable book.

Struthof!

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Memorial to Those Who Perished in Struthof.

I have a long standing interest in the history of WWII and the European Resistance Movement. I have read extensively on the subject, visited The Holocaust Museum in the US and toured Dachau in Germany.

In 2010 we visited Obersalzburg where we visited the site of Hitler’s Bavarian residence, Berghof, and his house, the Eagle’s Nest. Hitler rarely visited Eagle’s Nest because he was a severe acrophobe. There is a museum very worth visiting about the Third Reich in Oberslazburg. Goring, Speer and Borman also had residences nearby.

We visited Obersalzburg on a freezing cold October morning, which seemed appropriate for what we were seeing and experiencing. It was a little difficult to find the site as there were very minimal road signs to indicate the way. The most remarkable thing about Hitler’s Berghof  is the extensive underground redoubt system he constructed. Goring had one also. These underground bunkers had extensive tunnels with elevators, air shafts, multiple interconnected underground rooms, some with chandeliers, storage facilities and a location for snipers to kill anyone entering the pass. Hitler planned this as a place to hide, fight, and win his last battles. What struck me most forcefully in Hitler’s redoubt was the true insanity of the man and his followers. He literally thought that if he was losing the war, he could live for an extended time frame underground with his loyal followers. This is a surreal place, and if you are in Salzburg,  I recommend you visit. We need to understand this type of insanity so we can better recognize it when it rears it’s ugly head.

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Hitler’s Underground Redoubt

I also wanted while in Alsace to visit Struthof, which is a lesser-known concentration camp that housed many members of the European Resistance. So on another unseasonably cold day in July the subsequent year, we made the journey over the picturesque mountains and forests of Alsace to Struthof.

First, some facts about this camp.

Struthof Concentration Camp is located in Alsace France, thirty-one miles southwest of Strasbourg. This camp housed many members of the European Resistance, mostly from France, Norway and the Netherlands. An estimated 7000 prisoners were from the French resistance alone. Many communist resisters were incarcerated in this camp, along with Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. An estimated 52,000 people were incarcerated here with a death rate of approximately 40% of total inmates, or 22,000 people. The youngest inmate was eleven years old and the oldest was seventy-eight. (source: http://www.struthof.fr)

Struthof was “one of the most murderous camps of the Nazi system.” (www.struthof.fr)  Prisoners were used in forced labor for the Nazis. Medical experiments were conducted onsite by Nazi Physicians from the Reich University of Strasbourg, mostly on Gypsy prisoners. It contained a gas chamber. The medical experimentation rooms are still there and are quite distressing to see. Most disturbing of all to me were the pens where prisoners who were selected for special punishments were kept for extended periods. They resemble dog pens in a pet store, prisoners could sit in them but not lie down or stand, as they were just over 3×3′ in size. If Devil’s Island was malevolent, which it was, the evil in this place and in Dachau is non-describable by me.

Struthof

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It is worthwhile when visiting Europe to take time to visit some of these places. It leaves a strong impression and will to stand up for what is  humane all over the world. Estimates vary but between 11.5-17 million people were killed in The Holocaust during WWII.  Jews, (Roma) Gypsys, Russians, Poles, Slavs, allied military personnel, people of conscience, intellectuals, dissenters, Christians, homosexuals, members of the resistance, handicapped people, the list goes on and on (See references for source information regarding statistics.) My uncle was in a POW camp in Europe after he was shot down in a mission over Germany. He was an Air Force Navigator. 3.5 million POW’s were estimated to have been killed in these camps.  WWII would eventually claim the lives of more than 62 million people. This is most likely an under representation because there are not accurate counts of the dead in China (whole towns were obliterated) and Russia where countless millions of souls perished.

(Please see link below for discussion of latest population statistics on the war as they do vary, but contemporary consensus seems to be that numbers are under-reported.)

Visiting Struthof is difficult and disturbing, but important, in that we need to remember and honor all those who perished in this terrible war.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

References:

A Mosaic of Victims: Non Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. Ed:  Michael Berenbaum. NYU Press. 2000.

Ellis, John. World War II: A Statistical Survey, Facts on File. 1993.

Niewyk, Donald.  The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. Columbia University Press, 2000.